I am a big sci-fi fan, and usually enjoy whichever space sagas I watch. Star Wars, Star Trek, Mass Effect… Galaxy Quest… I enjoy most. Star Trek: The Next Generation is, according to many, perhaps the best in the Star Trek franchise, and I would agree. I really like Picard, and the show manages to balance the science fiction, the action, the humor, and the drama. That said, had I not known that TNG would get better later on, chances are I might not watch it past the first few episodes. The first reason really is quite weak, really cheesy and clichéed. As an example, one episode features a planet (called Angel One; very subtle) of extreme feminists and men who are meek and pitiful. I certainly appreciate the notion of making your stories into parables or stories of morality, and I enjoy doing so myself, it’s only really valuable if it’s not too on the nose. This time it felt like the episode might as well have been a lecture on feminism. It was also rather anti-feminist in that the ever-smarmy Commander Riker beds the leader of the planet and then afterwards kindly informs her about the silliness of her ways.
Another problem that plagued the first season, and to a lesser extent the rest of the show, was poor dialogue. Tidbits of morality and overt exposition battled for supremacy as the stilted dialogue did little to make you get to know the characters. These two things bother me; stuff like “It’s good we have eliminated [bad thing] by now” and “People back in the [whichever] century sure were [adjective]” are too overt, too obvious, and it makes me very aware that I’m watching a show from the eighties. Writing good dialogue is difficult, and something writers far better than I struggle with from time to time, but television has the tremendous advantage of having all its lines played out visually and audibly for scrutiny and subsequent changes; this makes errors in the department less forgivable. Also, bad exposition can be quite irritating; the whole “As you know”-thing really grates on my nerves. I bring up the CSI franchise as an excellent example of this, where the characters are constantly telling each other things they already know for the benefit of the viewers.
Because of these things, I’d probably classify the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation to be a guilty pleasure. The show would later go on to win awards and be highly acclaimed, but the first season is quite weak.
Aside from these things, here are my thoughts on some of the crew members:
Captain Jean-Luc Picard
My favorite Star Trek captain, the severe, solemn personality portrayed by the always wonderful Patrick Stewart is an austere, calm, and wise counterweight to William Shatner’s Captain James T. Kirk. His personality can be both endearing and off-putting, which in a way makes it more endearing, and the negative aspects are quite nicely counterbalanced by the familiarity among the bridge crew. This is also why I hated the TNG movies, because Picard was reduced into a bad action character.
I like Riker; he’s a good counterweight to Captain Picard. That said, in his own right he is not that great. One of the more annoying components of the show was that we, the viewers, were constantly told of his brilliance but didn’t get to see much of it. I always did enjoy the way he sits down, though; if you haven’t seen it, look for it.
My favorite character on the show, by leaps and bounds, wonderfully portrayed by Brent Spiner. What could have been a really one-dimensional, grating character because probably the most endearing and interesting part of the show, almost managing to rival the iconic Spock.
Ugh. Crusher was a cute kid and seems to have become a pretty awesome person, which remedies some of my dislike for the character, but it’s the same as always: child characters suck. Also, having the deus ex machina-like character always be using his genius to solve situation becomes really dull after fifteen or sixteen times.
What was the point of this character, besides showing off Marina Sirtis’ body in a tight outfit? To Sirtis’ defense the character was poorly written, but watching her acting in the more emotional scenes was almost painful. A character who oftentimes was pointless in that she constantly relayed information that could’ve been picked up by any regular person. Having an empath as a councilor could have been an exceptional advantage, but this wasn’t really utilized well.
I like Worf. It took the show some time to get him off the air, but he grew into a reliable and interesting character.
Geordi La Forge
Snooze. Don’t get me wrong, the character has its benefits and the friendship with Data is endearing, but La Forge has some of the awkward dialogue of the show.
Pointless. Felt shoe-horned in as a strong female character, but her role could have been easily filled by Worf (which it was later on).
All criticism aside, TNG is a nice bit of fun and later on grows into one of the finest science fiction series ever made.